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Teacher Meeting at Armour School Turns into Community Forum

By Casey Cora | February 7, 2013 2:15pm

BRIDGEPORT — What began as a text message between a CPS network chief and the principal of Armour School early Thursday ended as an impromptu community forum in a cramped classroom.

The meeting was initiated by Victor Simon, chief of the CPS Pershing Network. Simon said representatives from the school who adhered to the ground rules for time limits and number of speakers at Wednesday’s CPS school closing forum didn’t get a fair shake there.

Representatives from Armour had been the first to speak at the forum over possible school closings but later in the night representatives from many other schools routinely blew past their time limits or brought more than than the two allotted speakers.

To make up for that, Simon said he invited principal Shelley Cordova and Armour teachers to a lunch session.

But within hours word had spread that teachers were meeting with network leaders at the school at 950 W. 33rd Place, prompting a few dozen Armour parents and activists to show up and offer more feedback.

Simon wasn't fazed.

"This is not just about teachers, clearly. This is about an entire community,” Simon said. “I thought that today would be a good opportunity to have an extension because many people felt Armour wasn’t completely heard last night.”

The school district has counted 29 classrooms inside Armour's buildings but teachers say there are only 22 classrooms. They're hoping the school gets another look from CPS — something Simon said he'd prioritize.

Cordova said she wanted the ad hoc forum to reflect on the positive developments at the school and not necessarily the vitriol and anger that has occasionally spilled over at the CPS forums.

Lost in the talk about space utilization and test scores is the social component of neighborhood schools, said Kelly DiFiore, 39, a third-year social worker at the school.

“The social and emotional pieces haven’t been addressed yet. It’s amazing to see…all the different implementations that Armour is doing right now to increase the social and emotional aspects for the children,” she said. “With that foundation, we’re trying to support not just the student but the families."

Many in the room said the 110-year-old school was the tie that bound the community, with generations of families passing through its hallways. The school is a place, they said, where teachers look out for the well-being of their children.

Lidia Padilla said she yanked her 8th grader out of Armour last year in favor of Zizumbo, an UNO charter school at 4248 W. 47th St.

But Padilla, 36, brought her son back to Armour after his grades plummeted after just a few months. She said she couldn’t get a meeting with his teachers at Zizumbo to discuss the drop in grades.

“I was kind of closed I guess in what I was thinking,” she said. “Here, [the teachers] are worried about the students' health. They’re worried about everything.”

Simon, the network chief, repeatedly thanked the crowd for organizing and showing up in force and on short notice.

“A lot of the comments that are being made here are linking in the strength of the neighborhood schools. That’s being well heard,” he said.